Study Finds Black NFL Players Ejected Disproportionately to White Players

Jordan Cohn
June 26, 2020 - 3:15 pm

Amid a complete revolution of the NFL's stance on racism, equality and player rights, a new study found what may be more evidence of the league's race-related issues.

Benjamin D. Rosenberg, Ph.D., and Bret Levine, Ph.D. of Psychology Today posted a story on potential racial bias in the NFL manifested through the frequency and racial breakdown of player ejections. Their findings suggest that implicit racial bias may come into play when referees are evaluating certain penalties and determining whether or not they warrant the ejection of players involved.

Using demographic information from TIDES to contrast the percentages of black and white players in the league (an average breakdown of 66.5% black, 30.8% white between 1991-2019) and ejection information from Ben Austro between 2017-2019 -- Kiko Alonso was the only white player ejected -- Rosenberg and Levine noticed something off.

In a perfect world, given the population statistics, ejection statistics would take on the same breakdown. Instead, Rosenberg and Levine show that instead of 66% of ejections being enforced on black players, that number is actually around 95%.

The two psychologists mention that the findings were "not meant to be an indictment on the NFL or all NFL referees," but also say that these findings may suggest racial bias in the league. There are several factors to take into consideration that make this study far from conclusive, as well. Perhaps the ejections that occurred were all truly warranted based on the referees' discretion and the NFL rule book, and all the plays that did not result in ejections truly did not warrant ejecting any players involved. It's a possibility. It may not be likely, but it is possible. The league claims that this may be the case, though, as Rosenberg and Levine point to the NFL saying that "game officials are typically accurate on 97% of calls."

Additionally, the 66.5% black and 30.8% white populations in the NFL may not represent the same racial breakdown as which players were on the field the most. Perhaps a higher percentage of the league's black players played in more snaps and thus were part of more plays that could result in an ejection than the league's white players. Again, it's a maybe, a possibility.

The referees also obviously play a large part in these findings. The majority of referees (crew chiefs) are white, and though progress has been made, like when the Super Bowl LIV officiating crew was composed of five black officials out of the seven-member crew, there is still work to be done. But which referees tend to be more stern with ejections, which ones are more lenient, and the racial breakdown of the ejections by referee is another component.

However, the massive disparity in ejections is way, way, way too large to completely dismiss. 95% of ejections going toward black players compared with just one Kiko Alonso ejection just doesn't feel right. In light of everything that's going on, it should certainly be added to the list of issues the NFL needs to investigate, analyze and deal with swiftly and correctly.

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